[Marxism] Cuba and China - discussion

walterlx at earthlink.net walterlx at earthlink.net
Sun Mar 6 17:54:55 MST 2005

The close alliance between Cuba and China has engendered lots 
of discussion about the differences, and some as well about 
the similarities between the two countries. The following is 
a comment which I made in response to a discussion article on 
China and Cuba which appeared on the Greenleft_discussion list 
in Australia. 

Readers of the CubaNews list who might wish to discuss the 
relations between these two countries and what they might 
mean are welcomed to do so. Please keep your contributions 
focused on the relations between Cuba and China. 

This is a short and incomplete discussion of the points made 
by Michael Berrell regarding China and Cuba. His points were} 
well-taken and well-expressed. Just passing through Mexico for 
two days, I don´t have time to discuss them in detail, but did 
want to acknowledge them as a useful contribution to us for an 
understanding of the two different processes going on in the 
two countries. 

One decisive difference between the processes which occurred 
in Eastern Europe versus that of Cuba is that, with the sole 
exception of Yugoslavia, the other countries of Eastern Europe 
did not have their own indigenous revolutions. The abolition 
of capitalism was accomplished by the power of the Red Army as 
it overthrew the Nazi-sympathizing regimes of the region and 
this is a decisive difference. Resentments in Eastern Europ of 
the various problems in their processes inevitably took national 
or nationalistic form. That hasn´t been the case with Cuba and 
those differences are ones which affect everything. 

Michael says that in recent weeks Cuba has taken steps to rein 
in concessions made to private enterprise. He presents no facts 
to back up the assertion, and then makes observations about the 
things which motivate Fidel Castro as an individual. This is an 
area of speculation and not buttressed by solid material facts. 
Having been in Cuba for the past five months, I hadn´t heard of 
the measures Michael says were implemented in recent weeks. 

There are questions which anyone can reasonably ask about the 
extent to which Cubans widely engage in practices which I like 
to describe as being "outside the legal framework". It´s clear 
to anyone who spends much time on the island that few people 
live on their peso salaries alone. The informal sector (nice 
radical visitors don´t call it "the black market" though that 
is the term Cubans themselve use for it) plays a significant 
part in Cuban life. Don´t ask me for a statistical breakdown 
as my comment is just anecdotal based on my own observations. 

In time, something will have to be done about the fact that so 
many people do live outside the formal legal framework, but it 
must be kept in mind, at ALL times, that Cuba lives, exists, 
persists and survives in a specific, distinctive situation. 

Cuba is a blockaded country and that blockade affects and warps 
everything. Nothing about Cuba can be understood without this. 
Keep in mind at all times that Cuba is and remains the only 
country on the planet where a hostile military base continues 
to occupy national soil and whose country is committed to an 
active policy of strangulation and destabilization of Cuba´s 
social, economic and political system. In these conditions of 
war, both military (the Guantanamo base), economic (Helms-Burton 
and so on) and political (Bush transition commission report) the 
talk of the "lack of democratic institutions" is ahistoric and 
misses decisive elements which affect Cuba and the kinds of 
political institutions it can have. 

The call which Trotkyists used to make for the restoration of 
workers democracy, for soviets and for a multi-party system 
(as long as the multi-parties claimed to support the system of 
nationalized property and a planned economy) made sense for a 
country, the USSR, where these things had once existed. Cuba 
did not have such an experience, so you couldn´t call for the 
restoration of something which had never happened. In China 
and Vietnam, too, no such institutions had existed as part of 
their revolutionary processes. Trotskyists used to call them 
"deformed workers states" because of their origins. 

Trotskyists in those countries were bypassed or pushed aside 
in the process of making their revolutions. From what I´ve 
read, they were not treated courteously. They were repressed. 
But can we say today, and should we say today, in 2005, that 
whatever was done to the Vietnamese and Chinese Trotskyists 
in the 1940s cancels out what has happened since? In my view, 
to ask the question is to answer it. 

China, by the way, is not blockaded, any longer. Well, of course 
there´s something of a blockade on the sale of Western arms to 
China, but the US is trying to maintain that blockade while the 
Europeans seem intent on arms sales to Cuba. Much changes when 
a country isn´t blockaded. 

And I might as well make it clear that, in my view, China is 
not led by capitalists, but by the Communist Party. They made 
a strategic decision to open the country up to capitalist forms 
of investment far, far greater than Cuba has, but the commanding 
heights of the Chinese economy and political structure, that is, 
the banks and the armed forces, remain in the hands of the state, 
as does the decisive power in the economy. China is a capitalist 
state, though great concessions have been made toward capitalism. 
That´s a longer discussion for a separate occasion, it seems to me. 

Arthur Miller´s essay on his visit to Cuba in the year 2000 
were not very helpful, however factually accurate they might 
have been as expressions of his perceptions in Cuba at the 
time. They were his contribution to a book of photographs and 
comments called CUBA ON THE EDGE, or something like that and 
were later reprinted by THE NATION. The Cuban media, which ran 
a number of sympathetic articles about Miller, particularly his 
role as an opponent of the McCarthy-era witch-hunts of the 50s, 
made little or no mention of his comments on Cuba, which won´t, 
in my view, go down in history as among his most important. 

The second was by a bourgeois journalist named Tracey Eaton whose 
final essay from Cuba had a mixture of good and yuck, but was in 
my view useful information for those following Cuba to consider. 

Again, thanks to Michael Berrell for a thoughtful discussion. 
It's of such interest that I plan to share it with the CubaNews 
and other lists in hopes it will engender a discussion on a 
similar level. It represents the kinds of informed and thoughtful 
discussion not often found on the internet. 

Walter Lippmann, CubaNews 

Original Message: 
From: michael berrell dennyben at bigpond.net.au 
Date: Sun, 06 Mar 2005 07:22:05 -0000 
To: GreenLeft_discussion at yahoogroups.com 
Subject: [GreenLeft_discussion] CHINA AND CUBA 

A few weeks ago Walter forwarded a couple of very interesting 
articles concerning Cuba to the list. One was an impression of a 
visit to Cuba by Arthur Miller in 2000 including a meeting with 
Fidel Castro and another was by an American journalist who was 
returning to the United States after several years of covering Cuba. 

I thought they gave a fairly balanced and probably accurate picture 
of life in Cuba today. Both articles acknowledged the good things 
about Cuba, its world class health and education systems and the 
lack of the enormous differentials one sees in wealth in most 
developing countries, particularly throughout the rest of Latin 
America. In addition to this Cuba also spends much of her resources 
in helping the poor in other nations most notably in sending doctors 
and dentists to Haiti, Venezuela and Guatemala. 

However at the same time the articles acknowledged certain 
problems in Cuba, the lack of democratic institutions, lack of 
consumer goods etc. The main criticism of Cuba which emanates from 
hostile right wing sources is yes Cuba is a relatively egalitarian 
society but it is a society where everyone is equally poor, 
Socialism is therefore holding back opportunities for wealth 
creation in Cuba. There is a certain validity to this argument. 
Marx specifically warned about the "generalisation of want" which 
would result from attempting to build a Socialist society in 
conditions of material scarcity. 

In my view, problems in so far as they exist in Cuba emanate 
directly from this "generalisation of want", the low level of her 
social and economic development and consequently the low level of 
development of her productive forces. Cuba exhibits many of the 
problems which afflicted Socialism in Eastern Europe, the lack of 
consumer goods and the struggle to achieve sustained economic 
growth. Someone made the good point about Cuba not squandering its 
scarce resources on armaments. At the time of the collapse of 
Socialism within the former Soviet Union, her health indicators in 
contrast with present day Cuba were very poor this was as a direct 
result of the Soviet Union directing nearly all her resources into 
the ultimately futile attempt of keeping pace with the United States 
in the arms race. 

On top of this we have word of a report from within the Communist 
Party of China advising the Communist Party of Cuba to embrace 
privatisation and embrace market forces as a way of revitalising her 
economy. First we can be fairly certain this advice will be politely 
acknowledged but ignored while Castro remains in charge. When Castro 
inevitably leaves the scene the scenario is less certain. As Michael 
K. correctly points out certain sections within the Cuban CP are 
enamoured with the economic reform process in China and see it as a 
possible model for Cuba to follow. Second, it is not at all certain 
that unleashing market forces in Cuba would have the same effect in 
Cuba as it has done in China, one just has to look at Haiti, The 
Dominican Republic, Guatemala etc to see examples of where 
Capitalism has created enormous differentials in wealth without much 
economic growth. 

China and Cuba represent to opposite extremes. Cuba, over the past 
few weeks has moved to rein in the concessions made to private 
enterprise and return to a classic centrally planned command 
economy. Castro likes things the way they were in the Soviet Union 
at the height of Brezhnevism both politically and economically. 

Deviations from this model were made only with the greatest 
reluctance and out of desperation, now that the worst of the crisis 
has been negotiated and new money is pouring in from China, Csstro 
feels confident enough to go back to the way things were. In stark 
contrast China, over a period of time has moved to dismantle its 
centrally planned economy and has embraced privatization and market 
forces with great gusto, which led to rapid economic growth and the 
creation of wealth as well as opening up enormous differentials in 
wealth. My attitude to this has been ambivalent. We must ask 
ourselves why the Maoist experiment was such a colossal failure in 

I would argue for essentially the same reasons that Socialism 
eventually ran aground in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. And 
we can differ on this. Some like Bob Gould I suspect would argue 
that Socialism ran aground in the Soviet Union some time in the 
1920s others would argue that Socialism ran aground there some time 
in the late 1970s or anytime in between. In my opinion David 
Christian's arguments as to why Socialism ultimately failed in the 
Soviet Union are equally true of China, probably even more so 
considering that the China of 1949 was even more backward and 
impoverished than the Russia of 1917. 

When Deng Xiaoping initially launched the economic reform 
programme in China in 1978 it was meant to be a variation of the 
NEP, the Communist Party would use market mechanisms to kick start 
its economy which was only then emerging from the tumult of a decade 
of Cultural Revolution and utilise advanced technology which had 
been developed under Capitalism. Economic reform was also launched 
under the sound Marxist premise that any future Communist society 
had to be one of material abundance not one of shared 
impoverishment. The economic problems which engulfed the Soviet 
Union and Eastern Europe and subsequently led to the collapse of 
Socialism in those countries seemed to vindicate Deng's strategy for 

In a way, Deng's position was analogous with the old 
Menshevik arguments made in Russia at the time of the Bolshevik 
Revolution. China could not skip over a vital stage of historical 
and economic development. Here is where the economic reform 
programme diverged from the original NEP. The Communist Party would 
not only have to make certain concessions to Capitalism, as with NEP 
but would have to embrace Capitalism in its entirety. China would 
have to undergo a stage of Capitalist Development before it could 
proceed to Socialism as the Mensheviks had argued about Russia in 
1917. As a consequence of this policy everything was subordinated 
to the development of the Productive Forces. 

Unlike some Trotskyists who see China's meteroric rise as being 
someting of a chimera I would argue that there is evidence that 
Capitalism is performing, from a Marxist point of view,it's 
historical developmental role. Capitalism in China is creating 
enormous wealth, her Productive Forces are being developed. This 
development has been achieved at enormous human cost, as was the 
creation of wealth observed in Western Europe in Marx's time. It is 
Capitalist exploitation in its most brutal form. There is now 
nothing remotely Socialist about China. Many in the west look at 
modern China with envy and envisage this is what the future in the 
west will look like, no unions, no Social Welfare, almost unlimited 
unfettered Capitalism accompanied by breakneck growth. Some on this 
list talk about the restoration of Capitalism in China whereas I 
argue that Communism lays ahead of China, a society which will 
ultimately rest on the highest levels of the Productive Forces 
developed under Capitalism. 

The point I'm trying to make in a rather long winded and confused 
post is that China and Cuba represent two extremes, China with the 
unfettered release of market forces which has led to rapid economic 
growth and enormous disparities of wealth and Cuba where market 
forces have been completely suppressed which tends toward a society 
characterised by "generalisation of want". What is needed is 
something in between the two. 

Just finally on Cuba's relation with China. Cuba fulfills two 
important strategic purposes for China. First, it possesses one of 
the world's largest stores of nickel which is a vital component of 
China's breakneck economic growth and second, its proximity to the 
United States makes it an ideal listening post for the Chinese 
military as it had been for the Soviets. There is a large base in 
Cuba which listens in on US military communications now manned by 
the PRC formerly by the Soviets. 

Fred argues that only a Socialist China can protect its 
territorial integrity. In contrast I would argue that China's 
economic growth has allowed it to invest heavily in its military. 
The Chinese leadership was shocked during the first Gulf War to see 
just how far it was lagging behind cutting edge military technology. 

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